WASHINGTON – Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search), civil rights activist Al Sharpton and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun may be just distant memories for most voters, but their long-shot bids for the presidency have earned them spots at the Democratic convention (search).
Still, while all the former Democratic primary contestants will get a chance to address a nationwide audience, with a decisive primary victory for John Kerry, a very unified Democratic Party and reduced profiles at the ballot box, none of the losers in the 2004 primary is likely to have much impact on the Kerry-backed Democratic platform.
In fact, just one of the vanquished Democratic presidential primary contenders appears to have left an impression on the Massachusetts senator, who ended up choosing North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search) as his running mate.
"I don’t see any of the minor cast of characters playing a major role," Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College (search), said of his expectations for next week's Democratic convention in Boston.
"With the exception of (former Vermont Gov.) Howard Dean (search), who has a real following on the left and who can punctuate his message to the television audience that a vote for (independent presidential candidate Ralph) Nader would be a disaster, the other major candidates will probably be following the larger script of the Kerry strategists; none really has a separate personal following that needs persuasion," said American Enterprise Institute (search) Scholar Norm Ornstein.
Historically, conventions have been the place where the parties picked their nominee. But more recently, they have become coronations with the decision-making process concluded months earlier. This year's convention will follow this mold, and Democrats will focus instead not on the process by which Kerry got to this point, but on building the unrivaled energy needed to reach their goal of defeating President Bush.
Even Kucinich, who has continued to campaign actively despite Kerry long ago locking up the delegates to win the nomination, announced Thursday that he is encouraging his followers to back Kerry, whom he called "a good friend and a decent man."
Kucinich also warned his supporters about the danger of supporting a third-party candidate.
"If there is room for me in the party and the Kerry-Edwards campaign, there is certainly room for Ralph and for his supporters. Let's unite to create a new government, a new direction, a new opportunity, and new progress," said Kucinich, who won enough votes to send 67 delegates to the convention. The nominee needs 2,162 delegates to clinch the nomination.
Kucinich still plans to be active at the convention. His campaign apparatus is going to distribute a daily newspaper and organize "progressive activities" throughout the week. But political analysts say Kucinich's people shouldn't expect their influence to be felt by the Kerry camp.
"Kucinich did not get a sizable group of delegates to give him real leverage; I expect him to recount his hyper-populist message," said Ornstein. As for the others, Sharpton, who endorsed Kerry without ever officially dropping out of the race, "will be his usual funny and clever self, but neither will be in the one hour of network coverage, so their impact will be very limited."
Similarly, Madonna said the convention will not be a time for fireworks or issue advocacy as much as for rallying around Kerry and the Democratic Party.
"In the end, it just seems to me that they're not going to play a major role in determining the direction of the party," he said. "These other players will have a brief moment they may use to push their causes. In the end, both parties will leave the convention as united as I can remember."
All of the ex-candidates are scheduled to appear on the convention stage at some point during the four-day long event. Each day will focus on a different theme. On Tuesday, vanquished opponents Dean, Braun and Missouri Rep. Dean Gephardt (search) will speak. On Wednesday, Edwards, Kucinich, Sharpton and Florida Sen. Bob Graham (search) will push the idea of "a stronger, more secure America." And on Thursday, former NATO Commander Wesley Clark (search) and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (search) will pound home the idea of being "stronger at home, respected in the world."